What a privilege it is to walk alongside someone as they share the contents of their heart and see a life transformed?! As mental health professionals, we pour out so much and by the end of the all, we can find ourselves running on empty. While our work can be fulfilling, it does run the risk of unpleasant emotional experiences. Maybe you are secretly familiar with some of these experiences such as compassion fatigue, burnout, depression, anger, anxiety, envy (of a colleague’s career success), low self-esteem, feelings of failure (when business isn’t thriving or when clients don’t have the outcome we hoped for), or shame (about your incongruent personal life). I used the word “secretly” because we are taught to manage our reactions when others are in distress. Nevertheless, we often forget to nurture our own hearts and water our own seeds.
How do you manage these times in your life? In spite of our best self-talk, there are times when we need our own gift. However, I have found that we are one of the last groups of people to go to therapy. Let’s explore and address some of the common reasons therapists don’t go to therapy:
- “I am a therapist so I should know how to deal with my problems.” People incorrectly assume that therapists should not have problems because we have so many tools, and sadly, we buy into that unrealistic expectation of ourselves. Remember, objectivity is one of the main ingredients that make therapy so effective. As such, your skills are likely significantly diminished when your emotions are invested in your personal struggles. Having your own therapist can help you process apply and learn new skills.
- “I don’t want my colleagues to think I can’t cope.” Hopefully, you are surrounded by supportive colleagues who would inspire you to do what is best for you. If asked, you can give answers that don’t violate your privacy (e.g. “Yes, I go to therapy periodically for good mental hygiene”).
- “My therapist won’t be a good enough therapist for me" or "I might judge his/her therapy skills.” We know what it’s like to have a client make negative assumptions about our work before we ever get started. Make an effort to write down your questions and thoughts so you and your therapist can address your concerns from the outset. Like any relationship, the therapist-client relationship requires trust, so trust your therapist enough to take off your therapist hat and be fully present in your treatment. You deserve it!
- “My clients may think I can’t to help them if they find out I’m in therapy.” I encourage you not to believe and perpetuate the myth that therapists need to have all the answers before helping someone else. Further, it is not likely that your clients will find out you’re in therapy unless you tell them. Because therapists maintain professional boundaries, there would be few, if any, therapeutic reasons to introduce this into your work with your clients. It will be your clinical discretion whether and how you answer if asked by a client, “Have you ever been in therapy?”
- “I can’t afford it.” Like many of our clients, we can experience financial strain and may forgo getting professional help when needed. If this is the case, perhaps you can consider joining a support group for professionals or develop a treatment plan with your individual therapist that is cost-effective but still heart-effective (e.g. less frequent sessions with specific at-home assignments).
- “I may lose my license.” This is an understandable concern because the thought of losing your license can be scary and disturbing. I’m sure your professional association has an ethical stance on handling personal problems. For example, the American Psychological Association set forth ethics that require psychologists to “take appropriate measures” if their personal problems may interfere with competently engaging in work-duties. I hope you would actually consider professional support as one way to protect your license. If needed, your therapist can work with you to develop a plan to limit or temporarily defer your professional duties.
I’ll never forget my undergraduate psychology professor’s response when a classmate asked if all therapists are required to have their own therapist. She confidently replied, “It’s not required, but it’s a damned good idea.”
Mental health therapists, let’s make sure we are not unintentionally sending mixed signals by suffering in silence while promoting mental health in public.
***It’s okay for therapists to need therapy! ***
~Dr. Q. Perry